Oral Literature: The Hare, The Lion and The Squirrel

One day, the hare went off into the bush to look for wild fruit. When he reached the place, he
wanted, there was the lion, resting in the shade of the very tree the hare intended to climb.

Their glances met, and the hare felt his stomach churn. But he hid his fear and marched up to the lion. “Oh, brother lion! Have you heard? There’s going to be a terrible hurricane this afternoon, and it will carry us all away if we don’t tie ourselves down carefully.”

The lion looked anxious. “I’m bigger than you, so I’ll be the first to go. So, I’d better be the first to be tied down. Help me.”

Both of them went to collect lianas. Soon they had enough, and the hare worked with a will, and bound the lion from head to tail.

“Done!” exclaimed the hare with satisfaction. Then calmly, up the tree he went, and started eating the fruit. He threw down the skins and stones and managed to hit the lion on the head with most of them! When he was full, down he came and off he went, leaving the lion tied up.

A squirrel chanced by after a while, and seeing the lion tied from head to tail, said in amazement: “What’s happened to you, brother?” The lion answered: “It was the hare! He came by and said a hurricane was coming this afternoon. So, he got me to ask him to tie me up.”

The lion was beside himself with rage as he told of the humiliation of being bombarded with skins and stones and then left helpless. “Ah, today’s young people,” exclaimed the squirrel. “But I’m willing to do you a favour.” “Do it!” pleaded the lion. “Promise you won’t regret it.”

So the squirrel liberated the lion. The lion said to him: “To show you how grateful I am, I invite you home next market day. You will be my guest.”

The squirrel went home and made himself a little drum. On market day he tied on the drum with a cord around his neck, and marched off towards the lion’s house, beating the drum and singing: “The hare tied the lion, under the tree; I, the squirrel, set him free!”

The hare heard it and was not pleased. Grabbing a shovel, he dashed off to get ahead of the squirrel, and dug a hole in the path. The squirrel couldn’t see ahead very well because of the drum, and indeed fell into the hole. But he was able to scramble out and, dusting himself down, he carried on with his drum and his song.

The hare was even more enraged. He rushed ahead again, and dug an even bigger hole. Once again, the poor squirrel fell in. This time, the hare gave him no chance to try to scramble out; he killed him.
He skinned the squirrel and put on the skin. Then, taking the drum, off he went towards the lion’s home, singing the same song: “The hare tied the lion, under the tree; I came along and set him free!”

Meanwhile, it was getting dark. But the lion heard the drum and the song. Out he went, with his wife and all his children, to welcome the honoured guest. The two sat side by side chatting, while the wife served big gourds of millet beer. Then the food came: plates of meat of all kinds! The hare cleaned all the bones, and put them in his satchel. When the time came to go to bed, the hare was shown into the hut reserved for visiting chiefs!

At first light, the lion sent one of his sons to tell the guest that breakfast was ready. The son crept into the hut and … there was the hare, still snoring! The squirrel’s skin had begun to dry and shrink, and those two huge ears were sticking out!

“Impossible,” roared the lion when he was told. “He wouldn’t dare! He sent another son to have a look. This one came back with the same tale, but even then, the lion couldn’t bring himself to believe it. He called the most intelligent of his sons and told him to go and see.

“No doubt about it, dad! It’s the hare all right!”

The lion called his dogs and grabbed an axe. Then he went to the guest hut himself. But the commotion had woke the hare, who dashed out just in time, but with the dogs in hot pursuit. Each time it seemed all was lost, the hare reached into his satchel and tossed out some bones. Naturally, the dogs stopped to chew them. So, the villain made his escape!

(Folktale from Burkina Faso)